Statistics show gender inequality in employment is worsening

Gender inequality in employment - online meeting

Jane Farrell is Co-Founder of EW Group. She is a specialist in inclusive leadership, unconscious bias, organisational change and cultural adaptability.

When it comes to diversity data, inclusive leaders must look the patterns straight in the eye. They are often so stark they can make us flinch, yet while it is tempting to look away, inclusive leaders should not avert their gaze. Doing so is crucial to analyse, reflect, and then find a way forward.

The same is true when tackling workplace sexism and gender inequality. Sexism distorts women’s experience of work, their personal and economic wellbeing, and a company’s ability to recruit, retain and develop the most talented people. Many businesses were making headway on eliminating it, but the pandemic seems to have caused us to take a step backwards.

To address sexism, you do not have to be a woman or be brilliant at creating cultures that ensure women can thrive. Even if we have not experienced sexism, we must fully review the data, understand what sexism is, then work practically to dismantle it; it is a system, after all, which means it can be changed. And while we will all experience some backlash when challenging and changing a system that benefits largely those already in power, inclusive leaders must be ready to do just that.

As a result of the pandemic, gender inequality in employment is increasing. How and why is it impacting women more than men, and what can inclusive leaders do to put their organisations back on the right track?

How workplace gender inequality is worsening

First, let’s look at the statistics:

  • Women’s jobs are almost twice as vulnerable to this crisis than men’s (McKinsey, 2020), and Black women’s jobs are even more vulnerable (Economic Policy Institute, 2020)
  • Women make up 77% of high-risk workers, 80% of unpaid carers, and 69% of low earners (Women’s Budget Group, 2020)
  • 17% of mothers quit work to support their families during the pandemic, compared to just 10% of fathers, and 60% of working mothers handled childcare during the pandemic, as opposed to 42% of fathers (FlexJobs, 2020)
  • Mothers of primary school children spent five hours home schooling per day compared to two hours for fathers (UCL, 2020)
  • Of 288 global organisations, a third had no formal parental support policies, and 36% had no flexible working policies to help employees during the pandemic (Karian & Box, 2020)
  • There is still a significant gender pay gap of 8.7%, which rises to 15.9% for managers, directors and senior officials (ONS, 2018)
  • On LinkedIn, women were less likely to be headhunted, and 16% less likely to apply to a job after viewing it, even though they were 16% more likely to get hired to the jobs they apply to, than men (LinkedIn, 2019)
  • 60% of essential workers are women, and women make up 77% of those at high risk of contracting COVID-19 (Fawcett Society, 2020)
  • Out of 9,560 companies reporting, 8,090 pay men more than women (Financial Times, 2020)
  • Out of all FTSE 250 companies, just 8 women (2.3%) were CEOs (Hampton-Alexander Review, 2019)
  • Tackling gender inequality could add $13 million to global GDP by 2030, compared to doing nothing (McKinsey, 2020)

The pandemic has also had an impact on working patterns. Working mothers typically bear the brunt of additional caring responsibilities, both childcare and elder care. Occasionally this will mean that some women will need more flexibility than men, which could be interpreted as a lack of commitment to their job. During the pandemic, these tasks have become even more crucial and unavoidable, impacting women in unequal workplaces even more.

Women are also more affected by the way bias works during the pandemic – and that is not to mention the pre-pandemic impact of unconscious gender bias. Under stress, we are even more likely to make decisions that favour ‘people like us’. We fear for our businesses, and when we try to tackle that fear by restructuring, we do so in ways that keep people we feel more comfortable with closer to us.

Since most senior staff in most organisations are male and white, women and minorities are more likely to be impacted by restructuring, replicating already-embedded patterns and worsening workplace gender equality.

What can inclusive leaders do to ensure gender equality is not impacted by the pandemic?

The good news is that there is a great amount that leaders can immediately do to make sure that women are not impacted unfairly by the continuing pandemic. By acting now, they can set their organisations up for lasting inclusivity and all the benefits that brings.

1. Weave understanding of how discrimination and bias works into restructuring processes and programmes

Leaders can ensure that they understand how restructuring approaches impact women, minorities, or disabled individuals, and account for this in their planning considerations.

If 70% of low-paid roles are held by women, consider whether they may be able to be trained to do other roles; many people are capable of upskilling or working at different levels, if given the chance.

2. Decide how flexible and remote working can be woven into contracts – right now

One senior leader I work with said he was going to introduce blanket flexible and remote working “in a year’s time”. I encouraged him to do it now. The pandemic has taught us just how far that flexibility can be taken while we still run efficient and effective businesses.

By doing this, flexible and remote working is not only considered in extraordinary times, or when an enlightened manager allows it, but is built into the workplace culture and a starting point when designing and recruiting for new roles or promoting staff.

Inclusive leaders make sure their culture allows for the reality of all their staff members’ lives. I remember reflecting with one CEO a few years ago about how “it’s amazing how much flexibility can suddenly be available during the World Cup”. He took it on the chin, and as an opportunity to introduce more flexible working, all year round.

3. Consider inclusion when making redundancies

Some redundancies have already happened. Leaders may or may not have considered diversity and inclusion the first time round, but they can now. They can look at how they train and develop workers in low or insecure jobs and give those people a better chance at economic security.

4. Continue to report gender pay gap data

Businesses were given the right not to report on the gender pay gap when the pandemic hit; a pity, since the data exists and is freely available within most companies’ records.

While many businesses disappointingly decided not to report, inclusive leaders and great companies have not taken their foot off the pedal and have continued to report the gap, even though they did not have to. They also recognise that pay discrepancies exist elsewhere, like the ethnicity pay gap. The reporting is often an impetus for evaluating the value of roles – often, those considered of lesser value are worth much more.

5. Protect female staff from increased domestic violence

Inclusive leaders must be aware of how domestic violence has soared in the pandemic. In May 2020, Refuge reported receiving 66% more helpline calls and a 950% rise in website visits, compared to pre-COVID levels. This mainly involves men being violent to women.

To help tackle this, inclusive leaders can ensure their work on mental health and wellbeing acknowledges such patterns and that their staff know that their employee assistance schemes are well-equipped to support those women. They also ensure that managers are aware that domestic violence has increased and the signs to look out for.

See our workplace guide on sexual harassment for other considerations.

Everyone suffers in a pandemic, but some suffer more than others. As Emily Maitlis said in her now famous Newsnight address: “They tell us coronavirus is a great leveller. It is not.” Inclusive leaders know this, anticipate the disproportionate impact, and then say and do things to address it.

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